“Chigasaki Story” – 2014 Singapore Film Review

Yasujiro Ozu gets both an homage and an update in “Chigasaki Story,” a delightful film that combines breezily effervescent comedy with more poignant notes. It is a remarkable debut feature by the young director Takuya Misawa, as well as the latest in an impressive line of modestly budgeted – but far more than modestly talented – independent films shepherded by actress-producer Kiki Sugino, who also delivers a fine performance in this film. (“Chigasaki Story,” interestingly, has quite a bit in common with “Au revoir l’été,” another recent, and quite lovely, film Sugino also produced and starred in, which also covers a vacation sojourn in picturesque surroundings.)

The film’s considerable debt to Ozu in both its cinematic style and setting is made explicit in an early scene in which Tomoharu (Haya Nakazaki), a caretaker at an inn in the seaside town of Chigasaki, where the film takes place, tells two of the inn’s guests – co-workers Maki (Kiki Sugino) and Karin (Ena Koshino) – about the history of the inn. Tomoharu tells them that they are staying in the same room where Ozu wrote some of his classic films such as “Tokyo Story” (which this film directly evokes with its English title). In fact, there are still marks on the ceiling left by the oil burner Ozu used in the room. This detail symbolizes the fact that this inn and its surroundings exist in an environment where the past is very much tied to, and exerts great influence on, the present.

This power of the past emerges as a major theme of “Chigasaki Story.” Past events that have occurred offscreen very much inform the action that unfolds within the film’s three-day time span, bracketed by the wedding of Risa (Natsuko Hori) – the Chigasaki Inn owner’s daughter – and the wedding party that awaits the arrival of Risa’s newlywed husband’s return from Hawaii, where the wedding took place. The past also figures prominently in the profession of archaeology, the practice of which we witness during the film. The other guests at the inn include a group of archaeology students on a field trip to Chigasaki, where they are on an expedition to gather shards of earthenware, which they will attempt to mend together to reconstruct the pottery which constituted their original forms. Three of the film’s major characters are connected to archaeology: Tomoharu, who is part of the archaeology class in addition to his duties as inn caretaker, as well as his classmate Ayako (Juri Fukushima), who silently admires him but can’t quite bring herself to be fully open about her feelings for him. Maki also studied archaeology in college, a fact that will figure in a major plot strand that emerges later in the film, during which she will attempt to reconstruct her past emotionally, just as the archaeology students try to reconstruct the physical objects that they’ve excavated.

Director Misawa, who also penned the excellent screenplay that subtly maps out the intricate web of relations between the characters, and which beautifully conveys the lives they lead beyond the span of the brief time period the film covers, has created far more than a slavish homage to Ozu. “Chigasaki Story” possesses unique charms all its own, taking full advantage of the visual beauty of its resort setting – kudos to the evocative work by cinematographer Shogo Ueno – that forms a vibrant backdrop to the compelling comedy and drama on display.

“Chigasaki Story” also benefits greatly from its excellent cast, beginning with Sugino, who wonderfully conveys how Maki’s initially stiff, uptight-seeming demeanor masks a deep passion and yearning awakened by an unexpected visitor from her past. Koshino, as Maki’s coworker Karin, also impresses as the sassy, flirtatious counterpart – and often antagonist – to Maki. Nakazaki and Fukushima also beautifully play their quiet and shy characters, whose fraught yet largely unspoken relationship is but one of the wonderfully rendered narrative strands of this lovely film.